Group puts economic transition at forefront
Story by Chris Graham
It’s not a Democratic solution that’s going to save us, or a Republican solution. Lindsay Curren learned that on the campaign trail last fall when people who wouldn’t even shake her hand when she told them she was campaigning for her husband, Erik, the Democratic nominee in the 20th House District, ended up engaging in productive discussions of what we all need to do to get the country moving back in the right direction after getting past their partisan hangups.
“Working at the local level, in a nonpartisan way, we see that a lot of issues can be bridged,” said Curren, who joined with her husband to launch a local affiliate of the international Transition effort aimed at getting dialogue in the direction of what we need to do to prepare for the post-fossil fuel economy.
“The Shenandoah Valley is rich with people who are into the do-it-yourself ethic. And those people, whether they raise livestock, or they farm, or they’re carpenters, or they work at their churches or in their communities, that’s not something that’s about whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Lindsay Curren said.
The Transition movement includes more than 250 recognized groups across the United States and across the globe working on localized variations of a four-part plan to educate local citizens, promote opportunities for sustainable business, advocate for policy changes at the local and state levels and to build a physical infrastructure for a resilient local economy.
“Our economy is going to become a lot less global than it used to be,” Erik Curren said. “In the days of cheap oil, you could get everything from China. You can get food from China. Most of the manufacturers are in China. You can get food flown in from Chile in the offseason. We think in the future there’s going to be a lot less of that. And there’s going to be a lot more need and a lot more opportunity for places like Staunton and Augusta County to play their former role.”
For a period of about 25 years the local economy lost manufacturing jobs to Mexico, India and China as cheap oil made it possible for multinationals to cut production costs by using cheap labor overseas. “We feel like that’s going to start to reverse,” Curren said. “To get ready for that, we feel like we need to start getting ready now. We need to ramp up local food. We need to ramp up some light manufacturing and handicraft that can turn into manufacturing. And we need to ramp up energy conservation and local energy sources. Basically we just need to relocalize our economy. That’s what it’s all about.”
Two of the members of the Transition Staunton Augusta steering committee, Holly Parker and Michael Reeps, are veterans of the ultimately unsuccessful local effort to start a local food co-op. Reeps feels the Transition movement can overcome some of the obstacles that the food co-op faced by sharing what has worked in other communities.
“The co-op in a way was a way for us to provide the goods to people as sort of an end point. All the pieces leading to that were obstacles. How are you going to get the food from the farmer to the store? Because all the systems for that, rendering the food into other types of products, there are obstacles in the way. I think Transition will have more opportunities to go at those problems, whereas the co-op stopped at, well, here’s the demand, but all that supply stuff that needs to get filled in, it started to seem like a monumental task,” Reeps said.
The stakes to the effort are a known quantity. Parker isn’t alone in feeling that the ongoing economic downturn is a result of the sustained hike in gas prices that began in 2005.
“People think this recession was people being greedy, people making mistakes. The real tipping point was when gas got so expensive. The gas prices put pressure on people who bought houses in the exurbs because that’s where the cheap houses were. When gas prices went sky high, these people were up to their necks because gas was too expensive, at four bucks a gallon, and that started the wave of foreclosures, which started everything else,” Parker said.
“The thing about peak oil is local is going to be so important. Because oil lets us go everywhere, lets us get our food from across the world, from across the country. And when oil gets much more precious and expensive, we need to be more local in our thinking, getting our things from the world around us,” Parker said.